Why the University of Maryland Should Keep Gary Williams as Basketball Coach
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Today, a fellow Bleacher Report contributor published a hastily crafted article that called for Gary Williams to be fired.
While it is undoubtedly true that the program has been a disappointment since the 2002 National Championship, firing Williams is extreme and unnecessary; it is a call by uninformed fans who expect Maryland to be on the same recruiting level as Duke. In this article, I’ll dispel all of the “points” the writer has come up with and created to look like reasons to fire Williams.
To start, the teams that were listed that made the NIT, the obscure teams, made it because they were regular season champions of their division, but more on that later.
Two more things: I do sleep better knowing that Williams has never violated the letter of the NCAA law, and I do think Williams beating Duke 12 times in 50 tries is good.
Maryland wasn’t my first choice of schools; I actually preferred USC over Maryland for their athletics programs. Yet, after postseason bans and severe penalties for NCAA violations at USC, I am ecstatic that I chose a school with a basketball coach who abides by the NCAA law, especially considering this program is inextricably linked with the death of Len Bias and will forever be.
Consider this on Maryland’s record with Duke—during the 1990's, Williams had to build a program from scratch with no foothold in Baltimore and with the stain on Maryland athletics from the death of Bias. At this same time, Duke was the top team in the NCAA, winning two back-to-back titles. Although we haven’t been as successful as Duke in recent years, there was a time when the Terrapins had Duke’s number, and aside from the 80-49 beat down a few seasons ago, every Duke vs. Maryland game is close.
Missing out on local players is obviously something a good coach cannot do—unless it is out of his hands. Carmelo Anthony barely made it into Syracuse academically before being a one-and-done player. During his high school career, UNC and Syracuse were Anthony’s top two teams. Ty Lawson can be tacked on to Anthony as well; Lawson chose UNC months before the recruiting classes for his year were finalized.
It’s not to say that Maryland can’t get any guys who say UNC and Duke are their top choices—I’m sure some local players would choose to stay at home and play for Maryland. It’s more of a tactical decision for Williams—do you waste time and resources on a player who publicly states he wants to go to UNC or Duke for months, or even years before he will actually play college basketball? Or do you go after solid players who have no idea where they are headed?
The reason why Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant didn’t consider Maryland is because Gary Williams didn’t consider them. Williams isn’t looking for players that are going to be one-and-done. He’s looking for players that will play all four years, and he recruits based on that notion. There’s a reason why Beasley went to Kansas State and not Kansas, North Carolina or Duke. Maybe it was because every basketball fan, pundit, player and coach knew he was headed to the NBA after his freshman season.
As for Durant, my only guess is that Williams had a bad taste in his mouth from the last PG Jaguars player that committed to Maryland, the underachieving Chris McCray. Williams doesn’t take part in the one-and-done crowd; he isn’t looking to rebuild a roster every season.
Rudy Gay went to UConn because Gary Williams publicly stated he would stay out of Gay’s recruiting debacle, which saw Gay’s AAU and high school basketball coaches investigated by the NCAA for possible violations. This incident is one of the primary reasons why Williams chooses to stay out of the AAU circuit.
Remember too, Baltimore was a black hole for most of Williams’s career, especially after the death of Len Bias. Only after the addition of alum and Baltimore legend Keith Booth did the Terrapins re-establish a foothold in the city.
The Terrapins “missed” out on Dante Cunningham because Maryland had already recruited their power forwards for the near future, James Gist the season before, a four-star recruit, and Shane Clark, another three-star recruit. Clark, as we all know, failed to qualify academically at Maryland (yet somehow qualified at Villanova), while Cunningham developed into a productive power forward with the Wildcats.
As for Delonte West, I can’t speak to anyone who would’ve been “sick to their stomach” watching a powerhouse St. Joseph’s team led by Jameer Nelson lose in an upset to Oklahoma State two seasons after a national championship.
Kendall Marshall wasn’t recruited last year, he was recruited in 2007, a full three seasons before he was able to play college basketball. The Yahoo article the quotes were lifted from came from an article dated Feb. 2, 2009—a full year before the Bleacher Report correspondent claims they are from.
Perhaps the reason why Marshall and his family got a locker room speech instead of a five-star visit is because Marshall was a freshman when it occurred, and he had his sights set on Duke and UNC. Why waste resources on recruiting a freshman with his sights set on those schools?
Maryland is an excellent basketball school, but they aren’t in the market for top freshman who publicly state their desire to play for Carolina or Duke. After all, Williams could have thought Marshall, with three years of high school ball left, might not pan out, considering he had two heralded recruiting classes that ended up that way.
The Roscoe Smith quotes also came from the same Yahoo article, a full year before Smith committed to UConn, when he was still being recruited by every major school in the country. Smith committed to UConn in January of 2010 after being bumped down to a four star recruit, five months after Gary Williams had landed Mychal Parker, another highly regarded small forward.
The Terps didn’t get snubbed; they weren’t overlooked, and they didn’t turn down a bid. They missed the NIT because the NIT takes regular season conference champions that don’t make the NCAA Tournament. This year, 14 teams made the NIT by virtue of this rule, compared to eight last season. That coupled with Maryland’s 0-5 record is the reason why they didn’t get into the NIT. They simply weren’t better than Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, and the spot they would have got was taken by an automatic qualifier.
As for coaches adapting to one-and-done rules, it’s absolutely correct that Mike Krzyzewski and Duke are able to get four year commitments from top players. However, to claim Roy Williams has “adapted” to the one-and-done NCAA game is absurd. Of the twelve draft picks UNC has had since the rule change, two were freshmen. UNC and Duke recruit the top players they know will give them a long-term commitment, as opposed to one-and-done teams like John Calipari’s Memphis and Kentucky squads.
Roy Williams took two different squads to national championships, filled with upperclassmen players he recruited, cultivated and coached. Then, when his team was a majority of freshmen and underclassmen, they went 5-11 in the ACC and 16-16 overall, compared to Maryland’s team, comprised mostly of freshmen and underclassmen, which went 7-9 and 19-13 this season.
The reason why UNC made the NIT was because they’re a big money ticket, and because after Williams attempted to decline the NIT bid in 2006, the NCAA intervened and forced every team that was given an NIT bid accept it. Williams playing in the NIT last season had nothing to do with giving his young players more playing time; it had to do with UNC being a cash cow. His success this season had nothing to do with his NIT team last season on top of that. It had to do with Kendall Marshall taking over the point guard role and making his team better, much like freshman Terrell Stoglin did with the Terps, leading them in close games.
“Gary’s Boys,” as they were called, went to the NIT in 2005 and 2006 as a result of wildly underperforming yet highly-touted recruiting classes from 2002, 2003 and in 2008 because the team was in transition to making Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes their primary players.
One last thing—Gary Williams owns more career wins than Roy Williams, despite Gary Williams’s stints at American, Boston College and Ohio State. Williams also took over a Maryland program mired in mediocrity and scandal after the death of Len Bias. Roy Williams took over a Kansas squad coming off a national championship to start his career before moving on to North Carolina.
Williams has put together a solid recruiting class in each of the last three seasons. He has a potential ACC and NCAA player of the year in Jordan Williams, an explosive guard in Terrell Stoglin, an under-the-radar small forward in Hawk Palsson, two ESPN 100 recruits (Mychal Parker and Pe’Shon Howard) destined to be good, productive players and a possible star in Nick Faust.
Next year will be better—Faust, Palsson and Breunig will be outside threats, and Williams will continue to develop as one of the best, if not the best, post player in the country. Finishing the season 19-13 after replacing three senior starters and a sophomore starter that was only as good as Vasquez made him is a testament to Williams’s ability to turn what looked like nothing into a solid team.
This season could have gone much worse—Maryland fans should be thanking themselves they didn’t drop games against Clemson and Virginia and be in a much more precarious position then they are now. The thing is, you don’t unceremoniously dump one of the best coaches in the NCAA, a coach who resuscitated and singlehandedly built this program to where it is today, for a few down seasons.
Maryland will get better, and Gary Williams will be there to lead them. If, by some chance it doesn’t happen, let him get to 700 wins, hold a nice ceremony and let him walk. If his record was reversed, there would be a case. But, as the common thread continues in recent seasons, “fans” of the program will continue to call for Williams to be fired. They’re wrong.
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